Forgiving their attacker, his Christian victims heaped coals on his head

In fact, it’s difficult to recall a more profound terrorist failure than Dylann Roof’s attack on Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Yes, he succeeded in his immediate object of killing innocent men and women, but if he sought to weaken the bonds between black and white Americans, to weaken the power of the black church in the black community, or to in any way discredit the black community itself, his failure was total. That’s because of the character of the people he victimized, and it’s ultimately because of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…

That act was an act of Christian forgiveness, caught “live on tape,” as we used to say. The grieving family members of racist terrorism looked the unrepentant terrorist in the eye — and forgave him. With this act, these victims demonstrated clearly and unequivocally the power of the Gospel and the enduring power of the black church. Roof targeted a symbol of African-American hope and resistance, yet his action strengthened that symbol immeasurably.

I was in Charleston yesterday, standing with my oldest daughter on the sidewalk outside Emanuel church, and I was struck not just by the powerful words of the service — broadcast to the hundreds gathered on the street outside — but by the hunger in the media for an explanation. Why the hope? Why the courage? Why the expressions of joy in the face of unimaginable suffering? The answer came again and again. It was Jesus Christ, and this is Christ’s church.